On the roof of Phnom Penh’s White Building, the iconic apartment complex on Sothearos Boulevard, Yan Jun will set up a portable digital recorder and headphone amplifiers.
Then, the Chinese sound artist will invite people to don earphones or plug in their own—and just listen.
It’s all part of a participatory sound experiment, “Noise Hypnotizing,” which Mr. Yan will perform live on Friday.
He uses the recorder to channel the natural noises of the surrounding environment into simple earbuds. He then places the earbuds on the microphone to feed back the input, creating loops of increased distortion.
A constant flux of rich textures and frequencies, the resulting soundscape shifts with changes in the environment.
“I will make this feedback as a kind of improvised music,” the Beijing-based artist said upon arriving in Phnom Penh Wednesday afternoon.
“The wind comes, and the sound will change,” he said. “This slight difference could be a huge difference.”
Mr. Yan creates further variations by making slight adjustments to the simple feedback system.
“Feedback is something not easy to control so I don’t control it—I follow it,” he explained. “If I move, it will change but I don’t know how it changes. It’s all about feeling: You don’t know the exact direction—you have to feel that.”
Born in Lanzhou, China, in 1973, the writer and former journalist first explored sound after he moved to Beijing in the early 2000s and fell in with a community of musicians. He then began integrating field recordings into his poetry performances around 2004.
“I recorded sounds from the kitchen, from the street, from rain, from electric fan. I put them into live performance,” he said. “Then I started to make sound.”
Since then, he has done live performances of “Noise Hypnotizing” in cities including New York, Rotterdam and Tokyo, with an installation of his work appearing in the 10th Shanghai Biennale, which concluded in March.
Each site where he performs yields a slightly different soundscape. This is Mr. Yan’s first time in Phnom Penh, and he says he takes inspiration from the densely layered city.
“I love this area, and also this street, this building,” he said of his chosen location atop the White Building. “You can see through the windows, you can smell, you can touch people. I’m familiar with this kind of feeling, but this feeling is gone—it’s going, it’s disappearing now in Beijing.”
The experimental sound performance is one way to reconnect people to their environment and nurture that connection—though the aural recreation is a different listening experience than most people are used to.
“You will hear maybe 30 percent the environment sounds, 70 percent is feedback,” he said.
“It will be very abstract,” he added. “It brings you out from this so-called reality. You can feel another kind of reality. Nothing changes, but your perception can be different.”
“Noise Hypnotizing” will take place on the roof of the White Building at 5:30 p.m. on Friday.